CBS censors had an active time blocking out curse words during the many must-see performances at the Grammys last night. But despite zealously silencing and bleeping "shit," "goddamn," and "nigga," the censors allowed Macklemore's "faggots" to come out clearly. What's the deal? When is a slur not a slur?
Macklemore faithfully rapped from his pro-gay marriage 'Same Love,' following the exact lyrics from the hit song. "A culture founded from oppression, yeah we don't have acceptance for em. Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board."
"Same Love" is a song directly addressing the gay slur, as the next line specifically calls it a "word rooted in hate." And Macklemore says the word as a quote of awful name-calling on Youtube comments.
But context rarely matters in terms of censorship, which makes the CBS decision particularly strange. It's not as if the CBS censors were asleep at the wheel. When Kendrick Lamar rapped about "my niggas," it's not an offensive term to him or his friends, it's a term of affection. Still, that part of his "m.A.A.d city" performance was silenced out earlier in the night. CBS was active during Lamar's performance, also silencing out several instances of "fuck" and the God part of goddamn. (A point for another day.)
Beyoncé, too, had a few lines of her and Jay-Z's "Drunk in Love" performance censored for the relatively tame "shit." The line in Beyoncé's bridge, "We woke up in the kitchen saying 'How the hell did this shit happen, Oh baby," turned into "We woke up in the kitchen saying –––––– happen, Oh baby." Later in the song, the CBS censors silenced that line again when Beyoncé repeats it (at 2:45 in the video). Jay-Z didn't escape the zealous censors either, as his entire first line – "Hold up, that D'ussé is the shit" — was entirely silenced.
People certainly notice the strange discrepancy.
Bey can't say "How the hell did this shit happen?" on live TV, but Macklemore can say "faggots".— Alexander Ostroff (@lex_ferenda) January 27, 2014
So the Grammys didn't bleep Macklemore saying "faggot" in a song about equality. It's either subversive genius or lazy censors.— nicholas venable (@elbanev) January 27, 2014
You bleep out "Hell" and "Shit" but not "F*ggot".... Seriously. Seriously. But it's okay cause Macklemore ended homophobia...#done— Nathan Bakken (@natebakken92) January 27, 2014
Based on the active censorship through the night, we can rule out lazy censors. That's what makes the allowance of Macklemore's "faggots" line stand out, as CBS certainly knew the slur was coming up in the song, and still let the word echo through the mic.
The best explanation is that CBS and the Grammys wanted to let the song — that is, the entire song — speak for itself. It's similar to the problems some media outlets have had in both banning the Washington "Redskins" and still addressing the name controversy. Censoring Macklemore's slur dilutes the pro-gay message of the song, a purist would argue.
But musical artists would say the same about their curse words, too. CBS seems to have decided on its own demarcation of appropriate, relevant curse words, and contrast that with frivolous, unnecessary curse words. Sorry, Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Kendrick; for CBS, only Macklemore's "faggot" sat on the correct side of that line.